Education Minister Ruairi Quinn is awaiting a response from Institute of Technology Tralee (ITT) on the outcome of an investigation of plagiarism against its own chairman.
Flan Garvey was found to have plagiarised other material in two chapters of his 2008 masters in arts thesis at the college, by an external investigation panel set up after 26 academics brought concerns to the college in November.
But the finding that his degree was unjustified has been overturned by an appeals committee appointed by IT Tralee. It described Mr Garvey’s actions as “an unintentional and non-fraudulent infraction of an academic disciplinary rule” and said corrections should be put into the thesis in light of the deficiencies.
A finding that an award was unjustified could have led to the withdrawal and revocation of the MA degree, under rules of Higher Education and Training Awards Council which awarded it. The council was subsumed into Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) is now due to consider the matter.
A spokesperson for Education Minister Ruairi Quinn said his department will be studying the report in detail, and will await the responses from QQI and the college. When the matter emerged he said it was quite concerning, and that an accusation of plagiarism is a fairly strong accusation in terms of academic excellence and standards.
The appeal was upheld on a technical issue, relating to an understanding of the nature of plagiarism, rather than on the content of Mr Garvey’s thesis. At least five other grounds of appeal were not deemed admissible by the appeal committee chair Brendan Goldsmith, former president of Dublin Institute of Technology.
The report of the committee said a finding that an award was unjustified would be unfair in circumstances where a rule was not clearly formulated or communicated to students.
The investigation panel of three external academics did not find evidence of a conflict of interest, as claimed by the 26 academics, in Mr Garvey being a student of the college whose governing body he chaired.
The former Fianna Fáil councillor and ex-mayor of Clare has chaired IT Tralee’s governing body since 2001, but handed his duties to a deputy while the matter was investigated. He expressed delight on Friday that his appeal was successful and said he received a trophy from the students’ union in thanks for his contribution to student life just two weeks ago.
“That tells its own story,” he told the Irish Examiner.
Staff were briefed on Friday by college president Oliver Murphy, who told ITT’s academic council that leaks about the case will be investigated. But some academics are concerned about the implications for any past cases of plagiarism.
Mr Garvey told the external investigation panel in January he can not type and that he had given his handwritten notes to typists.
The panel said it is clear from ITT regulations that Mr Garvey had a responsibility to inform himself of the rules about writing a thesis and citing reference sources, but that the college also had a responsibility to ensure he was given supports to undertake his research and the writing of his thesis.
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